Statement of Teaching Philosophy
When I first started graduate school, I planned on only participating in research, not teaching. As a new Master’s student, I nervously taught my first class, an introductory biology laboratory. To my surprise, once I began interacting with my students, I found teaching to be a very rewarding experience. I greatly enjoy watching students have fun with biology, especially those that at first saw little value in learning biology. Particularly, I love teaching biology and mentoring students in educational research because there is so much more to biology than the biological content, although I find the biological content itself fascinating. For instance, teaching students about the nature of science, such as how science can change based on new technologies or observations, can help students increase their own critical thinking skills. Because of my love of teaching but my unfamiliarity with its principles, I joined the Doctoral program at the Mallinson Institute for Science Education at WMU. During my time in this program, I had the opportunity to teach a course for several semesters that was designed as a “flipped” classroom. Students completed readings and other tasks outside of class, and class time was primarily devoted to small group activities. In addition to teaching this course, I also taught online courses for multiple institutions. In addition to my education and teaching experience, my research in undergraduate biology education has influenced my teaching philosophy. I have personally witnessed the value of dedicating class time to interactive activities that have students work with the content and practices rather than passively listening to a lecture and so have adopted the flipped classroom approach. I have discovered several key components that need to be included in the flipped classroom- whether face-to-face or online- including using different types of activities, using scientific practices in those activities, providing opportunities for engagement in discussion, creating links across the topics of a course, and fostering an inclusive classroom environment. Moreover, I am continually evaluating my teaching style and curricula for improvement.
One essential criterion for a successful flipped classroom that I learned when I transitioned from my Master’s program in biology to my Doctoral program in science education is that simply having students doing hands-on activities is not enough for it to be considered active learning. My first few years of teaching (during my Master’s program) consisted primarily of introducing the main concepts of a lab and then having students confirm the main concepts using a confirmatory laboratory protocol. During my Doctoral education and reflecting on my own learning, I realized that there is little value in these confirmatory labs. Since then, students in my class may have some introductory reading to do before class, but class time is spent discovering and applying the main concepts during various activities. These activities are then wrapped up with a class discussion in which students report their findings and we, as a class, summarize the main patterns observed from the activities. During discussion, I may provide some leading questions to ensure that the objectives for the activities are met. More recently, I am also incorporating scientific practices into the classroom, such as modeling, creating and performing investigations, and interpreting data. One of my current interests is investigating how undergraduate students engage in scientific practices and sense-making during in-class modeling activities. I have found that students are primarily on task, working collaboratively, justifying their ideas, and working to make sense of key concepts. This interest began with my postdoctoral research position on modeling but I am now curious how students make sense of key ideas during various scientific practices in a range of environments.
I used the format of implementing scientific practices consistently in recent classes, including introductory biology courses. For instance, students learned about the basics of population growth from their reading. Then they applied the information during a case study activity in which students identified which elephant populations to conserve based on population growth and identified factors impacting their growth. Each student team created an infographic for their population that depicted population growth and factors potentially impacting their growth. Then students voted on which population should receive conservation funding.
One important function of active learning activities is to engage students in class discussion. In the online classroom, the discussion is the most interactive place for students and the instructor. During online or face-to-face discussion, I typically offer case studies, critical thinking questions, or reflective questions. Students provide their ideas, personal experiences, and scholarly information to address the questions and respond to one another. I facilitate discussion by asking new questions, providing new information, or redirecting the conversation so that students apply the scientific concepts to other scenarios and to their own lives. How student participation is graded appears to impact how they participate. In the online courses, after initially grading based on the number of posts students made, I developed a rubric that accounts for students’ development of ideas, critical analysis, engagement variation, comprehension of course material, mechanics/professionalism, and participation throughout the week. Discussion became even more dynamic. For instance, before implementation of the rubric, some students would either only respond to the questions that I posted or only to their peers. Afterward, they participated in doing a variety of posts, including responding to initial questions that I post, the questions that I post as a response to them, their peers’ posts, and reflection questions.
More recently, I discovered the usefulness of helping students make connections among concepts of a course. I used to take for granted that students would automatically make connections. After reflecting on one of my most enjoyable courses during my undergraduate career, I realized that I enjoyed the course so much mainly because the curriculum contained a central course project that invited us to reflect on how the main ideas were connected. I now help my students make these connections in my online courses by being explicit in my announcements of how the current unit’s concepts relate to what has already been discussed.
Additionally, for my KBS ecology class, I developed a course project that had students first identify a characteristic of a species that might have a possible adaptive function. Throughout the term, students discovered possible functions of characteristics, such as mimicry, and students journaled about whether and how the general functions that they learn about in class relate to their specific chosen characteristic. At the end of the course, students selected a function and wrote a grant proposal describing how they would test for that function. More recently, a student from my organismal biology course commented in a course evaluation that he or she did not understand how the different topics within a unit were connected. I reflected on this comment and developed my cell and molecular biology course schedule so that each unit is identified as one of the macromolecules (e.g. nucleic acids). Click here for course page and download LB 144 syllabus to see the schedule. Additionally, the first few days examined big picture ideas and the last few days synthesized the information of the semester. My goal is to have students not only learn about the individual ideas but also understand the interconnectedness of the topics.
Several of the ideas described above help to foster an inclusive classroom environment. The use of the flipped classroom allows students to work at their own pace as they learn the basic information because they are doing it outside of the classroom. As observed in the learning management system statistics, students spend from 15 minutes to 60 minutes on the online reading quizzes. Time range may be due to variation in familiarity with the material, native language, learning approaches and disabilities, and motivation. I also make sure to provide different types of course materials for each topic, such as readings, infographics, and videos and animations with closed caption. During in-class activities, students work in small teams. I assign teams and students stay within the same team. Because students work in their teams during every class period, they know each other rather well and tend to feel comfortable talking with each other- even those that experience difficulty talking in large groups. In order to enrich the inclusivity of the classroom and student identity, the in-class case studies focus on research performed by scientists from varying backgrounds. Lastly, because I am aware of my potential biases, I work to overcome these biases, such as making sure that I do not only talk with native English speakers during class.
I am passionate about teaching science and researching how students learn. I enjoy aiding students in increasing their knowledge and skills, gaining new experiences, and developing an appreciation of science. As a teacher, I provide multiple learning opportunities that incorporate scientific practices and engaged discussion. I also help students discover the connections among the seemingly isolated concepts of a course. Finally, I am continually seeking ways to improve my teaching skills. I attend professional development events, including education conferences, read science education practitioner and research journals, and participate in online courses from Coursera. I look forward to continuing to find new ways to engage my students.